There are three phases in the process of nominating a presidential candidate. First is the reality show. Not a single vote is cast, but campaigns still generate tons of news coverage. Next is the side show. High profile caucuses and primaries are held in a few small states. This winnows the field down to a manageable size but accomplishes little else. Next Tuesday begins the Main Event. Given all the chaos, it’s a little frightening to make predictions.
Let’s start with the Democrats. Hillary Clinton eked out a win in Nevada and is expected to win easily in South Carolina. Many of the Super Tuesday races are in the South, which is not Bernie Sanders country. I think he has had his time in the spotlight and his campaign will soon be over. This is a mixed blessing for Clinton since all the media attention will be focused on the Republicans.
Obviously, the Republican picture is murkier. It’s important to remember that the voters are selecting delegates to the Republican National Convention. To be nominated, the candidate must receive a majority of the delegates. Many states elect delegates in proportion to the vote count but some are winner-take-all (more on that later).
Let’s first look at Trump. He won with 35% of the vote in New Hampshire and 32% in South Carolina. He might pick up some votes if Ben Carson drops out, but it looks like his ceiling is 35-40%. His lead won’t look so impressive when Rubio gets the Bush, and possibly Kasich, votes. As a group, the three establishment candidates beat him by 5% in South Carolina.
Rubio is likely coming on strong now that he has the Bush supporters and their money. His big prize comes on March 15 with the Florida primary. It is the largest state with a winner-take-all allocation so that will give him a huge boost.
Like Trump, Cruz has a very loyal following but likely has a 25-30% ceiling. He will do well in Texas but the delegates are awarded on a proportional basis.
Kasich is a distant fourth but he will likely hang on until the 15th since Ohio also is winner-take-all. I’m not sure what Carson will do but it won’t make much difference.
If the three main candidates stay in until the end, I think it is highly unlikely anyone will go to the convention with the nomination locked up. We haven’t needed more than one ballot to nominate a candidate since 1952. This could be the year.
I know that we like short, simple answers but there just aren’t any. Hope I didn’t get too long-winded.